A few weeks ago over 50,000 of you read my story about how car doors are built and why my 1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee’s driver-side door refused to close. Multiple tack welds had broken, and a giant hem flange had failed, resulting in a crack and causing my door to sag so far that the latch no longer aligned with the striker. Now my Jeep is fixed thanks to a professional welder; here’s what he did.
I consider myself a marginal welder. I’m fairly good at welding up structural parts like frames, since those don’t have to look pretty and there’s little concern about me blowing a hole through the thick metal. But when it comes to sheetmetal like that which makes up my rare 1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee five-speed’s doors — you can forget about it; I’m way out of my depth.
Luckily, a Jalopnik reader named Dan is a welding genius. He and I met at one of my unsanctioned Jalopnik meet-ups at the Troy, MI Walmart parking lot (there’s another coming this Friday — Detroiters, join this Facebook page), and upon reading my story, he offered to take a look at my messed-up door.
Here are a few photos of the failure, for reference:
The hem flange had split nearly all the way up the front edge of the door:
So, I unhooked the electrical connector for the speaker (not the locks and windows, because remember, this magical machine has crank windows and manual locks), and removed four small bolts that held the door to the A-pillar. That’s all it took to get the ridiculously-heavy door off.
I chucked the closure into my Jeep J10 pickup, and, while at the meetup, placed the door into Dan’s awesome Mercedes diesel wagon. A few days later, Dan called me up and said he was done. He’d done a great job.
What he did was actually quite ingenious. My plan, had I done it myself, would have been to jack the door up while still on the vehicle, and then try to throw some small tack welds in place, though things would have been really tight. My biggest concern was overheating the paint on the outside of the door; that was the main reason why I decided to farm this project out.
Dan took care of that by holding a wet towel against the outside of the door while tacking the inside. First, though, he had to make sure everything was lined up, so he used a “friction jack.”
Also called a “monkey-on-a-stick,” this is basically just a big rod with a jack mechanism running along it. Different attachments allow for the tool to be used to pull and push, with the tool’s primary use being to align vehicle body and frame parts.
With the monkey-on-a-stick shoved into the speaker hole, so that one end pushed on the door’s sheetmetal near the jamb, and the other end was braced against the speaker hole, Dan lined up the red paint in such a way that all the gray unpainted metal was hidden, meaning the part was now perfectly aligned.
That’s when Dan tacked the door with some small welds that penetrated enough, but not too far so as to ruin the exterior paint, which, again, was being protected by a wet cloth.
The results may not be pretty (the welds are little blotches), but they are effective.
I hit the door with some touch-up paint (Dan had applied primer) from the local parts store, and things were looking good:
Here’s how the door jamb area looks today:
My friend Brandon generously took care of the door alignment while I was in a conference call; he moved the striker around and removed the shims found between the door and the hinges on the A-pillar — shims that he thinks may have been added by a previous owner to make up for the sag. With no shims, the door’s pin-striping lines up perfectly with that of the rear door:
There had been a little damage (a crack in the metal) at the latch area from the saggy door continually ramming into the striker on the B-pillar. I mended this with a reinforcement plate, which is held by the stock three latch screws and by three rivets:
The top of the door doesn’t quite kiss the outer weather strip like I’d like, but it’s close. Perhaps I’ll just hang off the door and try to bend that inward a bit:
The door opens and closes beautifully, and just feels solid. Dan did an exceptional job.
Over the phone, he described what he did. “[I] pushed [the door to] where all the paint lines lined up, and ground the paint off so I could weld it, and tacked it up, and then welded that big hole up,” he told me. “You could see where the pop rivet popped out, so it was like a hole.” (I think he’s referring to the tack weld that broke).
The way he described it, it was clear that this was a trivial job for Dan, though it would have made me sweat. This is no surprise, since Dan has been welding and wrenching for many decades. He told me he started with garbage-picked bicycles, then lawn mowers, and then he studied auto body repair after high school. After serving in the army for four years, he began doing prototype work for a supplier, and then got into “welding stuff on cars.”
“I’ve hand built some really nice cars,” he said. He’s done some welding work on a ’39 Cadillac La Salle C-Hawk, he “basically welded the [rusty] frame back together” on a 1964 Corvette, and he tells me he’s currently working on a 1966 Chevy Nova and a 1926 Ford Model T. “I’ve done countless Mustangs... I used to build roll cages for cars out in Waterford Hills,” he told me.
The guy knows what he’s doing, and — when it comes to welding sheetmetal — I sure as hell don’t. These were the best $100 I’ve ever spent (note that he only asked for 50). Dan is the man.